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Pre-Free Agency Mock Draft

We’re less than 24 hours from free agency and the draft is just over 6 weeks away. Here’s another look as to how things could shake out in April:

1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

A no-brainer, Luck will be calling the signals in Indianapolis for a long time if he is as good as people make him out to be.

2. Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

The Redskins gave up a ton to get the “RGIII pick” and rightfully so – Griffin will give the ‘Skins fans an iconic player and a franchise QB that they’ve lacked for decades. Losing the picks hurts, but it’s almost impossible to overpay for a franchise QB and Washington needs to take a gamble rather than continually go with retreads. Hopefully he works out better than Washington’s other early QB picks in the last 20 years – Heath Shuler, Patrick Ramsey and Jason Campbell.

3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, OT, Southern California

Christian Ponder will struggle to establish himself if the Vikings don’t upgrade their OL. Currently, their LT position is a disaster and Kalil is one of the better prospects in recent years at that position. He should be a starter from day 1 and protect Ponder’s blindside for the foreseeable future.

4. Cleveland Browns – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

With the Browns seemingly resigned to giving Colt McCoy another year to prove himself, they’d be best served to surround him with weapons. At #4, it’s a tossup between Blackmon and the top RB on the board, Trent Richardson. The Browns will be able to snag a quality RB with their 2nd 1st rounder or in the early 2nd round and still grab Blackmon – the best WR in this year’s draft.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

Passing on CB Morris Claiborne would be tough for the CB deprived Bucs (Ronde Barber is ancient and Aqib Talib has serious off field issues) but I expect Tampa Bay to address that position in free agency. Their offense badly needs a reliable back to take some pressure off Josh Freeman who struggled last year. LeGarrette Blount is serviceable, but the Bucs could use a better rounded back.

6. St. Louis Rams – Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

The Rams struggled mightily to keep their CB’s on the field and just cut Ron Bartell who started almost every game from 2007-2010. The Rams need a WR and could go for Michael Floyd here, or even address their OL but Claiborne is the best player on the board and plays a premium position.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Nick Perry, DE, Southern California

Jacksonville needs a pass rusher and Perry’s impressive combine puts him atop the list of edge rushers in the 2012 draft. Like the Rams, the Jags could go offense – either along the OL or with a WR – but their DE situation is pretty grim. Former Patriots late rounder Jeremy Mincey is a nice player, but unsigned and probably not a long-term solution. No one else on the team had more than 3.5 sacks. Perry could be just the guy Jacksonville needs to terrorize the young QB’s in their division.

8. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

The Dolphins might add Matt Flynn in free agency, but if they don’t they will need a franchise QB. It’s been way too long for Miami, and they will be hard pressed to win the AFC East without a high quality signal caller. Tannehill is looking like a sure thing to go in the top 10-12 picks and Miami is best served to grab a QB early if they don’t upgrade in the offseason. Matt Moore is an adequate stopgap to utilize while Tannehill – a raw prospect – develops.

9. Carolina Panthers – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

There are rumors that the Panthers will be looking to go OL with their 1st rounder and Reiff is too good of a value at #9 to pass up. Carolina could use an upgrade at CB or DT but there aren’t too many great values at those positions at this spot in the draft.

10. Buffalo Bills – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

Even with Stevie Johnson re-signed, the Bills need another threat on offense. Floyd is perhaps the best rounded WR in the draft and if he can stay clean off the field, he should be a huge upgrade for Buffalo. An edge rusher like Melvin Ingram or Courtney Upshaw could also make sense here.

11 Kansas City Chiefs – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

Former #3 overall pick Tyson Jackson has been a disappointment and Glenn Dorsey’s time in Kansas City could be running out. While they have needs elsewhere, including OT and LB, coach Romeo Crennel will be hard pressed to pass up the enigmatic but talented Coples. While Coples is inconsistent, when he’s at his best he resembles Crennel’s former cornerstone DL Richard Seymour with the Super Bowl Patriots of 2001-2004. Crennel might be the guy who can get the most out of the underachieving D-lineman.

12. Seattle Seahawks – Melvin Ingram, OLB, South Carolina

The Seahawks, at #12, have missed out on the top 3 QB’s in the draft. Barring a trade up, they will have to wait to find their signal caller of the future (or snag one in free agency). Pete Carrolll needs a new LEO on his defense, and Ingram has the ability to get to the QB while giving the Seahawks some versatility.

13. Arizona Cardinals – Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College

Kuechly had a fantastic combine and while the Cardinals could use a #2 WR to complement Larry Fitzgerald, as well as OL help, the BC linebacker is irresistable at #13. While some call him a “compiler” he showed terrific athleticism and fluidity at the combine, and reportedly interviewed extremely well.

14. Dallas Cowboys – David DeCastro, OG, Stanford

The Cowboys are seemingly always in need of OL help and while they very rarely use 1st rounders on OL (Tyron Smith was a rare exception last year), DeCastro would be an immense help to their shaky front.  He’s easily the best OL on the board at this point at will help protect Tony Romo as well as pave lanes for DeMarco Murray.

15. Philadelphia Eagles – Michael Brockers, DT, LSU

Andy Reid loves drafting linemen on both sides of the ball and Brockers will be in demand if he drops this far. While he is very raw – just a redshirt sophomore – he has huge upside as either a 3-technique in a 40 front or a 5-technique in a 3-4 scheme. In a division with Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III and Eli Manning, the Eagles will need someone who can collapse the pocket. They also need some WR help (if DeSean Jackson departs) and a LB or three, but Brockers’ upside is alluring here halfway through the round.

16. New York Jets – Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

The Jets badly need a RT to replace Wayne Hunter, who struggled mightily in 2011. At pick #16, Martin is too good of a value to pass up. He will help solidify the Jets O-Line which should help QB Mark Sanchez’s confidence and get the Jets running attack back to the level they enjoyed in 2010.

17. Cincinnati Bengals – Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama

Leon Hall is coming off a serious Achilles injury and might never be the same. Nate Clements was a nice find in 2011 but is getting up there in years. Jenkins is probably the most talented CB in this draft, but has serious questions about his maturity and character. Luckily for him, the Bengals don’t mind taking chances on guys with red flags.

18. San Diego Chargers – Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama

The Chargers have struggled to replace Shawne Merriman (pre-injury) at the edge-rusher position. A few weeks ago, Upshaw looked like a sure fire top 15 pick but a pedestrian combine drops him a bit and the Chargers gladly snag him to upgrade their pass rush.

19. Chicago Bears – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

Chicago hasn’t had a franchise WR in forever. While Wright has drawn criticism for a poor 40 yard dash at the combine, he doesn’t play slow on tape and his bad time is easy to chalk up to stumbling out of the 3-point stance. He gives Jay Cutler a reliable downfield target to complement Earl Bennett and take some pressure off Matt Forte

20. Tennessee Titans – Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

Eugene Amano is a marginal (at best) center at this point and needs to be replaced. While coach Mike Munchak has reportedly said he doesn’t envision taking an interior lineman in the draft, the Titans would be hard pressed to pass up the talented Konz. A good center will be critical in letting young Jake Locker develop. A pass rusher could be a possibility here, with Whitney Mercilus being an obvious option.

21. Cincinnati Bengals – Mark Barron, SS, Alabama

In a very weak safety class, Mark Barron stands out as the consensus #1 guy on the board. The Bengals dodgy safety play (Chris Crocker) cost them dearly in the playoffs. While Barron is probably never going to be an All Pro, he does have good upside and a nice skill set to complement Reggie Nelson (if he is retained). Solidifying the secondary with Barron and Jenkins will make the Cincinnati defense tough to beat.

 22. Cleveland Browns – Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois

The Browns could go with a RB like David Wilson or Lamar Miller here, but chances are they can land a good player (possibly one of those two guys) at pick #37. Jabaal Sheard had a terrific rookie campaign but the Browns could really use help on the other side. Mercilus was highly productive this past season in college and has plenty of upside as a pass rusher.

 23. Detroit Lions – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

The Lions have an up-and-coming defense and a fairly potent offense. What they don’t have though is a secondary which can limit good QB’s. Playing in the same division as Aaron Rodgers and the same conference as Eli Manning and Drew Brees makes it imperative for the Lions to upgrade their DB’s if they are serious about bringing home a Lombardi. Kirkpatrick might end up shifting to safety at some point, and has some minor character concerns, but his talent is tough to pass up for the perpetually defensive back challenged Lions.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia

The Steelers have struggled with their OL at times in recent years and it has led to their running game losing effectiveness and QB Ben Roethlisberger getting knocked around. Cordy Glenn is a road grader inside who should instantly beef up the Pittsburgh line and help keep Big Ben standing upright.

25. Denver Broncos – Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State

The Broncos did well to pick up Brodrick Bunkley last year but he provides little in the way of interior rush. Fletcher Cox provides the Denver defense with a DL who can push the pocket and play in sub packages. While he’s not a dynamic game changer, Cox has enough ability in the passing game to be a quality defender in either a 3-4 or 4-3 front.

26. Houston Texans – Rueben Randle, WR, LSU

He was mildly disappointing at the combine, but Rueben Randle is the quality target the Texans need to play opposite Andre Johnson. Adding a good #2 WR to an already potent offense will make them one of the scariest units in the league.

27. New England Patriots – Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

Bill Belichick needs another impact player in his defensive trenches. Poe could end up going in the top 15 by the time the draft rolls around in April. However, if he’s sitting here at #27, Belichick won’t pass him up. Poe gives the Pats a massive 5-technique to line up aside Vince Wilfork, or the ability to line up on the nose and kick Wilfork out to the 5-tech spot. In a 40 front, Wilfork and Poe would be almost impossible to contain inside.

28. Green Bay Packers – Devon Still, DT, Penn State

The Packers missed Cullen Jenkins last year as their DL play was a real problem at times. B.J. Raji underperformed and their 5-techniques were underwhelming for most of the year. While they seem to like Mike Neal, he can’t stay healthy. Still comes from a long line of Penn State DL (most of whom have failed to perform well in the pros) and appears to be a good fit for Dom Capers’ 1-gap 3-4 scheme.

29. Baltimore Ravens – Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama

Ray Lewis’ age is becoming more and more apparent and the Ravens other ILB options are thin at best. Hightower is a productive and deceptively athletic player who plays with the mean streak that Baltimore is known for. A quality leader and respected teammate, he should be able to learn from Lewis in 2012 and take over the reigns a year from now.

30. San Francisco 49ers – Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech

Even with Randy Moss now in tow, the 49ers need to add a young playmaker to their WR corps – as Moss is 35 with plenty of baggage. Hill probably doesn’t deserve to go this early, but his combine opened enough eyes to get him overdrafted. Coby Fleener or an interior OL could also be possibilities here.

31. New England Patriots – Andre Branch, DE, Clemson

New England will probably trade this pick, but if they stay put they have to address their OLB/DE spot. Regardless of their scheme, 3-4 or 4-3, they need an edge player who can play both pass and run pretty well. Mark Anderson is a free agent and his limitations in the run game were exploited by the Giants in the Super Bowl. Andre Carter could return as a situational player, but he’s not a long-term answer. Andre Branch gives Belichick the big, long, quality edge player that the Pats have lacked since Willie McGinest left town.

32. New York Giants – Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford

The Giants lost two TE’s to serious knee injuries in the Super Bowl and Tom Coughlin likes to have versatile weapons on offense. Fleener’s upside at the position is enormous and the recent success of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham will have the Stanford TE coming off the board sooner rather than later. He will give Eli Manning another great weapon and the red-zone target that he lacks at times.

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